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Change of guards at Bolshoi brings up hopes for theater’s pullout from crisis

July 10, 2013, 16:33 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, July 10 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s main theatrical company and world cultural brand, the Bolshoi, has gotten a fair chance to extricate itself from a period of internal scandals that have been spoiling its existence in recent years and marring its broad public image.

Tuesday, a change of the company’s Director-General took place and the hopes emerged that the Bolshoi might eventually pluck itself out of the current critical situation.

Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky said Tuesday Director-General Anatoly Iksanov was leaving his post and he would be replaced there by Vladimir Urin, who had occupied the position of Director-General at Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater.

Iksanov’s resignation caught the artistic producers of the Bolshoi completely by surprise. They learned about it just the night before and looked frustrated.

Vladimir Urin confessed that a decision to accept the new position had been rather difficult to take and he had turned it down at first. He said however he was not considering any revolutions and hoped to see the Bolshoi staff and personnel become his allies.

The change of guards at the theater was preceded by a chain of resounding scandals broadly mulled over in the media.

A year and a half ago, when Anatotly Iksanov got a prolongation of his labor contract with the Bolshoi, a group letter to Vladimir Putin emerged. Its signatories asked the President to replace Iksanov with the premier dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze. However, the information that surfaced later suggested that the dancer himself stood behind an initiative to write to Putin.

Soon after it, the artistic director of the ballet troupe, Sergei Filin, survived an acid attack, which deprived him of 90% of eyesight. The police arrested the suspects, including Pavel Dmitrichenko, a leading dancer at the company.

A total of 300 members of the Bolshoi trade union organization signed a group letter in the latter man’s support. They even went as far as to elect Dmitrichenko their leader.

Bolshoi directorate issued a notification to Tsiskaridze at the beginning of June on the absence of plans to prolong contracts with him as either a dancer or a pedagogue. Simultaneously, Tsiskaridze intensified his public speech through the media - he doubted the graveness of Sergei Filin’s wounds and apportioned all blame for the Bolshoi’s woes to Iksanov.

The disputes were taken to the courtroom where Tsiskaridze successfully challenged the official penalties issued to him by the theater’s executives.

Next in line came a report by the Accounting Chamber, Russia’s top auditing agency. It highlighted once again the multimillion financial abuses purported during the dragged-out reconstruction of the Bolshoi’s historical building.


Although the theater’s top officials were uninvolved in those abuses - all the contracts for reconstruction works had been processed through a specialized Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration - public opinion ascribed them to Iksanov, too.

The abnormality of the situation at the Bolshoi and a need for some radical steps that were to be taken at a certain moment had been clear for some time. It was back in mid-June that the operatic diva Anna Netrebko, whom the Bolshoi did not invite in the past several years, spoke out for drastic changes at the theater.

“You must fire everybody, then put everything back to proper positions, then hire everyone anew,” the singer said. “Maybe, something will change there after it.”

Star baritone Dmitry Khvorostovsky said, in his turn, that problems of this kind exist in any repertory company where performers work for over many long years.

“A performer needs fresh air,” he said. “And if actors work for a year or two or four they begin to behave as if they were spiders in a glass jar. That’s the plight of a repertory theater and changes are possible there only if the system as such is subjected to change.”

Arts professionals and experts outside the Bolshoi welcomed the change of Directors-General. Simultaneously with it, they speak in encouraging terms about Anatoly Iksanov’s professionalism and say he has fallen victim to circumstances in many ways.

Also, the professional quarters expressed words of praise for Vladimir Urin. Dmitry Sibirtsev, the chief of Novaya Opera theater told the portal that he finds Urin to be an ideal theatrical director.

Russian Youth Theater arts supevisor Alexei Borodin supported the decision to appoint Urin to the Bolshoi, calling him “an outstanding professional.”

“Thanks to his directorship the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater is in a perfect shape now, both in terms of its repertoire and the standards of performing,” he said.

Borodin added to it that Urin’s election to the post of the Bolshoi’s Director-General was a well-balanced and correct decision. He believes that Urin’s unwillingness to take up responsibility for the solution of all the problems is one of his biggest assets.

“He’s a professional who resolves problems without making claims to leadership in the theater and that’s a very strong asset,” Borodin said.

Andrei Vorobyov, the director of the Pyotr Fomenko Workshop theater told Itar-Tass he feels confident that all the conflict situations at the Bolshoi will be settled now that Vladimir Urin has been placed there.

“This is a correct and beneficial decision,” he said. “Urin is a high-rate professional and what’s more important, he is a top-rate producer. And more than that, of course, he is a fine man with a big and generous soul.”

Pianist Denis Matsuyev spoke warmly about Iksanov’s activity at the Bolshoi. “A man needs a lot of ability and talent to stand at the head of a company like the Bolshoi for a whole thirteen years. He really did a lot of good things there.”

“A major strategic war was launched in the mass media and the process of creativity receded into the background and that’s the most deplorable thing,” Matsuyev said. “I really wish Urin could overcome it.”

The replacement of Directors-General will mean a serious loss for two Moscow theaters at a time, Kommersant Daily writes with an apparent note of apprehension. It describes Iksanov as a “perfect manager who retrieved the Boshoi from ruins over the thirteen years of governance there.”

As for Vladimir Urin, the newspaper says “he is no less brilliant as a director - a cunning, farsighted, and creative man, a precious leader who brought the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater the fame of virtually the best musical theater in this country.”

“Now he will be plucked out of his reliable and well-tested crew and will have to plunge into a collective incomparably more awkward, complicated and problematic,” Kommersant Daily says. “There’s no assuredness whatever that Urin will subdue that monster.”